The New Hampshire House voted Thursday morning to move forward on bringing a family and medical leave program to the state, even after the commerce committee recommended against it.
An amended version of the bill — which raises the amount of weekly contributions employees could divert toward the program from 0.5 percent to 0.67 — passed the House 186 to 164. The chamber already greenlit an earlier version of the proposal in early January, but the bill had to be sent to the commerce committee for further review because it involves the creation of a new insurance program.
The commerce committee divided along party lines: Republicans, in the majority, told the House to reject the bill, saying it “has many flaws and innumerable unanswered questions.”
When it came back up for a vote before the full House on Thursday, critics of the program warned it would be too expensive and cumbersome, and that it amounted to a so-called hidden “income tax” — because, even though it’s voluntary, the process to avoid participation could be too complicated.
Some also said the program’s voluntary nature would make it too big a gamble.
“If we don’t have enough participation, the math doesn’t work, the money won’t be there,” said Bedford Rep. Laurie Sanborn, who also wrote the commerce committee’s recommendation against passing the bill. “And guess what? That means all of you will have to pay for this.”
Those in favor of the paid leave program said it would help the state attract much-needed young talent in an era when its workforce is rapidly aging.
“This bill has a long way to go in the legislative process,” said Concord Rep. Mary Stuart Gile, who has been leading the charge to bring a family and medical leave program to the state. “However, passing it has the potential to reverse the headwinds that New Hampshire is experiencing right now and move our economy in a proactive, rather than reactive, right now.”
But the bill still isn’t out of the House entirely, and it has a long road before it could become law. It now heads back to the finance committee for yet another round of debate before it can move over to the Senate.